Health

New Studies Link Heart Health With Reduced Likelihood of Developing Dementia

Older adults who take care of their heart are less likely to develop dementia than people who neglect their cardiovascular health.

Sep. 4, 2018
By Julie Al-Zoubi

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A new study under­taken by the University of Bordeaux in con­junc­tion with other research cen­ters in France sug­gests that older adults who take care of their heart are less likely to develop demen­tia than people who neglect their car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.

Even when people didn’t hit opti­mal tar­gets for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, they could still ben­e­fit from the attempt.- Cecilia Samieri, The University of Bordeaux

The study focused on seven rec­om­men­da­tions from the American Heart Association (AHA) for achiev­ing opti­mal car­dio­vas­cu­lar health. The AHA rec­om­men­da­tions were: not smok­ing; taking reg­u­lar exer­cise; eating a diet rich in fish, fruit and veg­eta­bles; main­tain­ing a healthy weight; and man­ag­ing blood pres­sure, blood sugar and cho­les­terol levels within healthy ranges.

The study fol­lowed for an aver­age of eight and a half years 6,626 people aged 65 or older who didn’t have demen­tia at the start of the research. During the period about 11 per­cent of the par­tic­i­pants (745 people) devel­oped demen­tia.

The researchers dis­cov­ered that with each addi­tional heart-health rec­om­men­da­tion par­tic­i­pants met, they were 10 per­cent less likely to develop demen­tia. It was found that each rec­om­men­da­tion par­tic­i­pants achieved led to cor­re­spond­ingly better scores in cog­ni­tive tests.

Adequate blood flow is essen­tial to good heart and brain health but over time blood ves­sels can narrow and harden result­ing in damage known as ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis which can increase the risk of strokes, heart attacks and cog­ni­tive decline.

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Atherosclerosis can be kept at bay by main­tain­ing a healthy lifestyle and keep­ing blood pres­sure, blood sugar and cho­les­terol levels within safe ranges. High blood pres­sure, raised cho­les­terol levels and excess blood sugar can damage blood ves­sels lead­ing to com­pli­ca­tions that reduce the flow of blood to the brain.

The study was led by Cecilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux who told Reuters, “Even when people didn’t hit opti­mal tar­gets for car­dio­vas­cu­lar health, they could still ben­e­fit from the attempt. From a prag­matic and public health per­spec­tive, pro­mot­ing change in car­dio­vas­cu­lar health from poor to inter­me­di­ate levels may be more achiev­able and have a greater pop­u­la­tion-level effect than the more chal­leng­ing change from poor to opti­mal levels.”

The study was unable to doc­u­ment that lifestyle changes directly impact car­dio­vas­cu­lar health or reduce the over­all risk of demen­tia and cog­ni­tive decline. The car­dio­vas­cu­lar health of par­tic­i­pants was only mea­sured at the start of the study and could have changed over time, affect­ing their brain health.

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A sep­a­rate study pub­lished in JAMA which exam­ined the same fac­tors on car­dio­vas­cu­lar health found that younger adults with opti­mal heart health expe­ri­enced fewer changes in the brain linked to cog­ni­tive prob­lems in later life.

Senior author, Paul Leeson from the UK’s University of Oxford told Reuters they had focused the study on young people, “because we thought that these changes in the blood ves­sels may occur before sig­nif­i­cant damage had occurred to the brain.”

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Leeson added, “We were able to show that there are dif­fer­ences in the blood ves­sels related to levels of dif­fer­ent risk fac­tors and that these dif­fer­ences are evi­dent in young adult­hood.”

That study looked at 125 par­tic­i­pants with an aver­age age of 25. For each addi­tional rec­om­men­da­tion they fol­lowed for opti­mal heart health the sub­jects were found to have health­ier blood ves­sels and a greater den­sity of blood ves­sels in the brain.

Fifty-two of the par­tic­i­pants had blood flow in their brain mea­sured and it was found that with each addi­tional opti­mal heart health rec­om­men­da­tion achieved, the blood pump­ing through the brain increased sig­nif­i­cantly.

Consumption of olive oil has long been asso­ci­ated with improv­ing heart health. A 2014 study con­firmed that phe­no­lic com­pounds found in plant-based foods includ­ing olive oil were ben­e­fi­cial to car­dio­vas­cu­lar health and reduced the risk of devel­op­ing heart dis­ease.

A more recent a study con­ducted in 2016 con­firmed that the Mediterranean Diet rich in olive oil was effec­tive in improv­ing brain func­tion, slow­ing cog­ni­tive decline and reduc­ing the risk of Alzheimer’s.